Ceasefire holds on Armenia-Azerbaijan border after deadly clashes

YEREVAN (AFP): A ceasefire was holding Thursday on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, Yerevan said, after the worst clashes since 2020 killed dozens of troops and jeopardised a fledgling peace process.

The clashes that erupted on Tuesday ended “thanks to the international involvement” overnight on Thursday, Armenia’s security council said, after earlier failed attempts from Russia to broker a truce.

Baku and Yerevan have traded accusations of initiating the violence along their shared border, which saw 105 Armenian troops and 50 Azerbaijani servicemen killed and hundreds of Armenian civilians flee their homes near the frontier.

The escalation comes as Yerevan’s closest ally Moscow is distracted by its nearly seven-month war in Ukraine.

A delegation of the Collective Security Treaty Organization — a Moscow-led grouping of several ex-Soviet republics — is due in Yerevan later Thursday, Armenia’s foreign ministry said.

On Tuesday, Armenia’s security council asked for military help from Moscow, which is obliged under the treaty to defend Armenia in the event of foreign invasion.

In Yerevan, opposition supporters staged an anti-government protest overnight, demanding Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s resignation, after rumours he was planning to agree on concessions in decades-long territorial dispute with Azerbaijan.

The Caucasus neighbours fought two wars — in the 1990s and in 2020 — over the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region, Azerbaijan’s Armenian-populated enclave.

The six weeks of fighting in 2020 claimed the lives of more than 6,500 troops from both sides and ended with a Russian-brokered ceasefire.

Under the deal, Armenia ceded swathes of territory it had controlled for decades, and Moscow deployed about 2,000 Russian peacekeepers to oversee the fragile truce.

The Ukraine conflict has changed the balance of power in the region, as Russia faces and increasing international isolation.

The European Union has since led the Armenia-Azerbaijan normalisation process, which involves peace talks, border delimitation and the reopening of transport links.

Analysts have said the latest escalation has largely undone Brussels’ efforts to bring Baku and Yerevan closer to a peace agreement.

Ethnic Armenian separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh broke away from Azerbaijan when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The ensuing conflict claimed around 30,000 lives.